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Tuesday 29 September 2020
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Black Agenda Group Declares Racism a Public Health Crisis

Tyronda James
tyrondajames@minorityreporter.net

BAG member/founder Jackie Campbell and BAG “Community Meet Up” attendee Jennifer Jones. Photo By Tyronda James/Minority Reporter Media Group Publishing & Printing.

Racism is declared to be a Public Health Crisis. The Greater Rochester Black Agenda Group (BAH)continues to declare Racism to be a Public Health Crisis and the importance and the detriment in addressing it.

Making their initial declaration in May, BAG organizers hosted their first socially distant public meet up since the pandemic made its way to Rochester in March. The “Community Meet Up” took place on August 23 and was purposely designed to attract Black community members to discuss issues impacting Black people.

Established in 2015, BAG is lifting culturally specific and culturally responsive interventions to address the effects of racism within the Black community across the social determinants of health.

BAG believes in “solutions developed by the people for the people.” The group seeks to support challenges presented by community members that align with their three focus areas impacting the lives of Black people in Rochester: Education, Health & Wellness and Economic Development.

“So, when we talk about racism, being a public health crisis, racism impacts education and all the social determinants of health,” said Jackie Campbell, Black Agenda Group member. “It was education, housing, transportation, where we live, like all of those things, any social aspects that you can think of is impacted by racism and impacts our health. And there’s tons of evidence around it. Question is what are we going to do? That’s why we’re here.”

During the meetup, leaders from the group provided updates and next steps regarding the declaration, accumulating more than 1200 individual signatures and more than 150 signatures from some of Rochester’s largest organizations including University of Rochester, Causewave Community Partners and the Legal Aid Society of Rochester.

“The thing about the black agenda declaration is that each individual and organization that signs, also commits to a certain set of activities that they’re actually going to be doing. So, we’re going to be following up with those organizations in terms of hitting those,” said Campbell. 

“It’s not enough to say yes, we believe that racism is a public health crisis, but what is your organization doing? And so we’re talking to the community about that and really just getting encouraged, encouraging them and actually getting encouraged.”

Initial Game-Plan

Currently, BAG’s most critical initiative is leveraging its key resources such as community members, area organizations, and executive level colleagues and politicians to get local and state governments to declare racism as a public health crisis, and acknowledge health care disparities that have existed for more than 400 years, impacting the livelihood of primarily Black Americans.

“Five years ago, we came together as a collective of concerned citizens to address a constant and critical issue – that the control and decisions about the community seemed to always be in the hand of those not of the community; and that almost every measure and outcome of wellbeing for the Black community continued to get worse, “ said Hanif Abdul Wahid, Black Agenda Group member.

“When we talk about the negative outcomes in terms of the health outcomes of the black community, we see that racism is a core factor. And so, if we’re going to do something about some of the negative impact or negative outcomes in our community, that we need to recognize that racism is underlying much of that, and that we need to work together to eradicate it,” Campbell said.

What’s on the Agenda?

Recommendations for a commuter tax were discussed.A commuter tax also known as a tax on non-resident income is generally either income or wages collected on individuals who work, but do not live, in a particular jurisdiction. 

In the 1950s enacted federal, state, and local level policies encouraging white flight to suburbs, but restricted African Americans and others from moving through several different practices.

Though their residences moved, many continued to work and earn incomes within the city. BAG estimates that approximately $500 million per year leaves the city through these channels, which is particularly egregious since taxpayers fund these salaries. Adding the private sector, nonprofit sector, and others they estimate that nearly $3 billion leaves the city of Rochester every year.

They also advocate a “lock box” so that dollars would be used specifically within Black Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC) communities as an equity focused reparations fund that invests in economic development driven by the residents in the communities.

They believe the commuter tax is the most politically feasible option allowing the city to recapture portions of dollars that leave the city. A four percent tax on the estimated $3 billion would generate $120 million, annually.  This creates savings by reducing the need for social services and public safety and rebuilding the market. 

BAG member Simeon Banister said they are looking at many different strategies. “We’re trying to kind of figure out how we can create more revenue for the city. So we have to come up with vehicles to share resources more effectively across the community.” 

“We’re not going to be able to ameliorate this disease if we forget about people of color. And so there’s a vested interest that the entire community has in ensuring that we have equity, particularly in terms of treatment for COVID-19, those are symptoms of a deeper root problem. And so we’re encouraging folks that if you want to remedy the symptoms and we’ve got to get to the root causes and the root causes is the legacy of structural racism that has afflicted this community in this country,” Banister noted.

Members of Rochester’s Black community are strongly encouraged to connect. “Special message to people of color, particularly black folks that are watching. We need you to join the cause and to be a part of what’s going on here, because we believe we can end up in a situation that is stronger, more resilient, and that leads the entire community,” said Banister.

“Frankly, when folks in this community or people of color in this community do well, you have a community that does better. We’ve seen tremendous levels of disparity, but the flip side of that disparity is opportunity. And that there’s a lot of opportunity African-American and looked at portions of this community. And so doing strengthen the community.” 

The group also encourages and welcomes allies getting on board. “Together, it’s no one person, no one individual, not even one sector is going to actually solve this,” said Campbell. 

“We actually have to be working across sectors across health, across education, across housing, all of those areas, we need to work together in terms of eradicating racism,” Campbell said.